March 18, 2024

By: AEOP Membership Council Member Cora Moore

Whether it’s lacrosse, basketball, or soccer, I always keep my body moving. There is nothing I love more than lacing up my cleats to get a few shots on the goal keeper or tying up my sneakers to get a few miles under my legs. Keeping active is extremely important to me and my well-being! Pushing your body and keeping it moving daily is a great way to stay in shape and be healthy. While there are many benefits to this, I want to talk about how to prepare your body for these activities and highlight the importance of staying healthy.

 Before, I couldn’t count the number of times I rolled my eyes at the beginning of practice, realizing we had to do the same “pointless” (as many of my teammates say) stretches. However, now that I understand how these stretches can make me a healthier, less at-risk athlete, I’m excited to share their importance.

Stretching is critical to keeping your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. Think of your muscles and joints like a rubber band. If I take the rubber band and immediately pull on it as hard as possible, it will most likely snap quickly. But, if I take that same rubber band and slowly pull at it, then let go and repeat, the rubber band will be able to stretch much farther. Your muscles work in the same way! When you engage your muscles in an activity (such as kicking a soccer ball in my case) without stretching first, you are putting your muscles and joints at risk for injury.

Stretching signals to your body that there will be movement soon. This allows your brain to increase blood flow to the muscles, leading to decreased muscle soreness and improved recovery after workouts. In addition to stretching before working out, it is recommended to do the same after exercise. Usually, my favorite go-to after a workout is junk food – don’t tell my coach I said that – but I still try to include a stretch in between eating.

Stretching does not only have physical benefits, it also has mental benefits. Stretching is found as a great way to relieve stress. It encourages the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. It can also be calming and meditative, helping you focus on your body and breath in a way that can help clear your mind and reduce anxiety.

Remember to stretch properly, or you could cause more harm than good. If it starts to become painful or uncomfortable, it could mean you are pushing your muscles too hard. Consistency is key. Make it part of your daily routine to do some sort of stretching exercise every day.

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